Inconsistency the Theme at This year's Derby
by Trevor Whenham - 04/17/2008
If there is a theme for this year's Kentucky Derby it can be summed up in one word - Inconsistency. If you are looking for more you could try maddening inconsistency, or mind-numbing inconsistency, or even incomprehensible inconsistency. Whichever you prefer, one thing remains true - more than most years, this year's class of three year olds can't decide if they are any good or not. Just when a horse starts to look like a winner they do something that forces us to reconsider. Good horses suddenly look terrible, and horses that we have already ruled out do something to get back in the mix. In this bizarre, wide-open year picking a winner is not going to be easy. Don't believe me? Just look at all these horses that have thrown us a curveball. The worst part is, this is just a few of many:
Monba - This horse started to get some buzz very early this year. He had a couple of wins last year, but was fourth in his first stakes race that was noteworthy. He got bumped in the CashCall Futurity so hard that most horses would have packed it in, but he rebounded nicely and was charging hard down the stretch. The euphoria was short lived, though - he came out next in the Fountain of Youth and finished 12th while running a race that was as bad as a race can be. So much for the excitement. The Todd Pletcher trainee showed up again in the Blue Grass Stakes, and few gave him much attention. Oops. He ran a very solid race, putting away stable-mate Cowboy Cal down the stretch. As if it wasn't hard enough to figure this horse out already, we have another twist. The Fountain of Youth was run on dirt, while the Blue Grass and CashCall were on synthetic, so we can't know how much of his success has to do with his affinity for a surface other than the one the Derby will be run on.
Pyro - This horse has the ultimate in dual personalities. He was an impressive second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to War Pass (more on him in a second). He came back even stronger this year, with two big wins in the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby. At that point it would have been easy to consider him the top horse in the country - most did. All he had to do was get through the Blue Grass with a decent performance and he would likely be the Derby favorite. He didn't need to win, just show up and look like he was in good form. He didn't even come close. He started out 10th at the first fraction, and he never improved. It was a terribly flat effort. Now we have to figure out whether he just didn't like the synthetic surface, or if he has fallen badly out of form. An easy pick has suddenly become very hard.
War Pass - This horse was the unbeaten two year old champion, and he started his three year old campaign off in fine form - he trounced an outmatched allowance field in what was little more than a timed workout. He went into the Tampa Bay Derby as the prohibitive favorite - partly because he was so good, and partly because none of the other horses were notable. You can imagine the shock felt by everyone when he finished a distant seventh out of seven. He did a decent job of redeeming himself after that disaster. In the Wood Memorial he ran with a fast pace, and was just barely unable to hold of Tale of Ekati down the stretch. There are questions about his ability to handle the distance on top of it all.
Adriano - This horse turned some heads this week when Edgar Prado chose him as his Derby mount. Prado could presumably have his picks of horses, so this is a ringing endorsement. It makes sense if you just looked at his last race - an impressive win in the Lane's End at Turfway. It's the race before that, though, that makes him so confounding. He went into the Fountain of Youth with high hopes because he had just come off a stunning win in an allowance on the turf. He totally bombed in the Fountain, ending up ninth by more than 17 lengths. The Lane's End was a bit of redemption, but it was problematic, too - it was on synthetic, which is more similar to the turf he has done well on than the dirt that he flopped once on, and which he will have to run the Derby on.
Z Fortune - The Rebel Stakes is the key prep for the Arkansas Derby, and no horse garnered more attention going into that race than Z Fortune. He was an almost prohibitive 3/5 favorite. He earned that favor based on his win in the LeComte and a strong second to Pyro in the Risen Star. As you can probably guess by now, the Rebel was a disaster. He was a badly beaten fifth. He came back to finish a much better second in the Arkansas Derby. He has a lot to like given that he will be at hefty odds, but we have to figure out which effort is closer to what we are likely to see in May. On the plus side, at least we don't have to worry about synthetic tracks with this horse, because he hasn't seen one in his Derby preparations.